‘Revolutionary art’ adorns the walls of rebellious Beirut

For artist Ivan Debs, art gives the revolution a “face of culture and beauty.”
Sunday 24/11/2019
A young Lebanese protester looks at graffiti on the walls of the headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in central Beirut.(AFP)
A young Lebanese protester looks at graffiti on the walls of the headquarters of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia in central Beirut.(AFP)

BEIRUT - While many protesters raised their voices and shouted slogans against bad governance, corruption and social injustice in Lebanon, some used artistic expression, a quieter yet equally powerful tool to demand change and inspire hope.

Since the protests erupted October 17, hundreds of images, photos, paintings, cartoons and graffiti were produced to illustrate the event, many adorning walls around the main protest hubs of Martyrs’ Square and Riad Al Solh Square in Beirut.

The artworks designated as “revolutionary art” are shared on social media platforms, including “Art of Thawra” (“Art of Revolution”), an Instagram page dedicated to collecting the Lebanon 2019 revolution art in one place to showcase creativity in freedom of expression.

“These pieces will exist forever,” said “Art of Thawra” founder Paola Mounla. “They capture key moments and events, forever immortalised in the artwork. They can be used in schools and in books and go down in history as part of the Lebanon 2019 revolution.”

“The talents are innovative, creative, passionate and artistic, yet they were underexposed. When the revolution began, I started gathering the pieces and sharing them on my personal Instagram account. The content was growing, one artist was inspiring the other and a domino effect was created. It only felt natural to give them a platform where they could express themselves freely.”

The page, created October 21, amassed 11,000 followers in less than a month and more than 1,000 pieces curated. Some 50-100 pieces are posted almost daily. It is acting as a virtual museum of the Lebanese revolution.

The collection covers a wide spectrum of creative twists, themes and ideas and an even wider spectrum of artistic media from digital Instagram filters, to gifs and animations, graffiti and cartoons to oil on canvas. Almost 95% of the content is generated in Lebanon and 5% is generated by expat Lebanese artists.

“The content is relevant, real-time and creative. There’s a piece of ‘Art of Thawra’ that appeals to each person out there. The level of passion and proactivity the artists are putting behind the work is impressive,” said Mounla, a Lebanese-Canadian communication and advertising professional.

Ivan Debs, a 26-year-old artist whose works appear on “Art of Thawra,” said he has been looking forward to such inspiration.

“I felt so excited. I have been painting about the political, economic and social situation and injustices for years pointing fingers to politicians and corruption and for the people to wake up and now they did wake up,” Debs said.

The artist said his acrylic and watercolour paintings, as well as graffiti and murals, focused on iconic symbols and manifestations that speak to everyone.

“In one painting I drew a beautiful woman that speaks not only to women but to men, students, children and elderly as well because it represents the motherland,” Debs said.

“The message is always the same. It is about people fighting oppressors and the power of the people in bringing down corruption. It is a message of hope, dignity and resistance.”

The word “Thawra” was painted over and over again on walls and buildings, scribbled in a hurry or drawn in great detail. The walls bore slogans such as “Our weapon is our words,” “Revolution is a woman” and “Thawra has no religion.”

One of the first motifs to emerge on the wall was a pig in a suit, by Lebanese graffiti artist Spaz, who is known for caricatures and cartoons representing corrupt politicians. Bullet-pocked landmarks still bearing the traces of war, like the movie theatre known as “The Egg” and the Grand Theatre, were quickly covered with graffiti and street art.

Another revolutionary canvas has been the Ring Bridge, a major flashpoint of the protests. Art for Change, an organisation that seeks to redefine street art in Lebanon, invited artists to paint on a wall on the bridge with images spanning from detailed faces to Arabic calligraphy. Art for Change invited 25 artists to paint what is known as the “Revolution Wall” beside parliament.

“The artists of the nation are telling the story by the people. Documenting events through art is very important because this is how a country learns from its past and the world learns from the past of a country. It will also help us evolve and create a better future,” Mounla said.

For Debs, art gives the revolution a “face of culture and beauty.”

“Art illustrates somehow the voice of the people,” he said. “It expresses what people think and feel and encourage them to continue the struggle.”

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Street artist Hady Beydoun poses in front of his graffiti depicting the face of revolution in central Beirut. (AFP)
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Lebanese artist and anti-government protester Hayat Nazer finishes her phoenix mural in Beirut’s downtown district, November 6.(AFP)
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Graffiti artist Mohammad Abrashh draws on the wall of a building at the al-Nour Square in the northern port city of Tripoli on November 7.(AFP)
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A graffiti on a smashed glass facade in Beirut. (AFP)
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A graffiti is sprayed on a wall in Lebanon’s Beirut, November 5.(AFP)
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Lebanese artist and anti-government protester Hayat Nazer stands next to her phoenix mural in Beirut’s downtown district, November 6.(AFP)
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